Welcoming Rolf back onto campus – our own ‘Campus Cat’


Worshipped as gods by the Ancient Egyptians, protected by law and mummified after their death. No, this is not about pharaohs. It’s about our furry companions. While there were many other feline goddesses in ancient Egypt, Bast was the only one represented as a domestic cat. She had many roles, including being the goddess of protection. No wonder that one of her “manifestations” – Rolf – has been patiently and persistently patrolling Warwick’s campus, protecting our community and making sure that everything is in perfect feline order. After his accident in early February, he fully recovered and Warwick decided to welcome our superstar back, as he truly deserves.

A speech given by Professor Gwen van der Velden,

Deputy Pro Vice Chancellor (Student Learning Experience)

Welcome, students, staff and visitors to the University, to this rather unusual but delightful event.

My name is Professor Gwen van der Velden, I am Warwick’s Deputy Pro Vice Chancellor (Student Learning Experience) and I am really quite excited to be speaking to you all today.

You see, we are all here, absolutely thrilled, to welcome Rolf back to campus and open our Campus Cats exhibition in his honour. So here is a particular welcome to Helen and Robb, Rolf’s ‘parents’ and above all, Rolf himself!

Rolf is a much loved, quirky and exceptional visitor and a furry friend to many of us. I’ve personally been in conversation with colleagues on campus, to find our serious exchange completely fall apart the minute Rolf is in sight. He cannot pass unseen, and anywhere he goes, gasps of recognition, pointed fingers and a quick stroke or chat-with-the-cat follow. Frankly, I’ve seen world famous academics, august speakers, politicians and even members of the Royal Household pass through campus with less attention than Rolf receives…

But then, he is a cat with 13 thousand followers on Twitter, a daily tracking report of his adventures, the top ten winner of an international campus cat competition, and a cat who made the newspapers more than once, even abroad. It is quite incredible what Rolf has achieved, by just being… Rolf.

We are enormously grateful to his family for letting us share in the enjoyment of this sleek four-legged celebrity with his big pointy ears and kind demeanour. Thank you, Helen and Robb!

We are even more grateful to all your efforts to make Rolf well again when bad luck in the form of a white van struck. It must have been such a shock to you. As you’re no doubt aware, his accident also caused shock and concern on campus and for his followers too.

I also want to thank specifically Dr Claudia Rei, Principal Teaching Fellow from Economics, for her care for Rolf. And Rachel Perring the medical student who took care of Rolf when the accident happened, but also the many students who helped Rolf stay entertained whilst he had to stay home.

But today, he is back! A few outings over the last week have shown Rolf is back in great form, and this is worth celebrating. And what better than borrowing the idea of the international campus cat exhibition from the museum of the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen in the Netherlands, where the story and image of Rolf made it to the exhibition!

In December and January, the University museum put on a special exhibition about university cats. The reason for this exhibition? Groningen’s own university cat, Prof. Doerak, received his own student card. Rolf of course, already has one!

After an appeal on social media platforms, photos of academic cats from across the globe were sent in. Photos of Carlton from Canada, Rolf from England and Èr Pàng from China. Photos were also sent in from Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, Turkey, Germany, Scotland and the United States. Rolf’s entry got an enormous amount of support online, and if you were one of those supporters: well done, and a big thank you!

Welcoming Rolf back onto campus – our own ‘Campus Cat’
A few of the international Campus Cats

It got even better when Rolf’s parents went to see the exhibition. I’ve spoken with the museum director who told me it was absolutely fantastic to receive them there and a little intimidating, knowing Rolf was so very popular.

The exhibition was a huge success, and there were so many visitors that the closing date for it was delayed. It just goes to show how important cats are to us, and how intrigued we are by them.

But still, no matter how much we watch them or follow them, we still don’t really know what goes on in their heads. If you’ve ever been stared at by a cat though, you know that whatever it is, it’s big and it has an attitude. Or, as the author Terry Pratchett said ‘In ancient times, cats were worshipped as Gods, and they have not forgotten this’.

The exhibition pictures of these often majestic campus cats are now placed around campus for you to enjoy. You can find on the website where to find them, and do go for a stroll to see them all.

My thanks goes to Arjen Dijkstra, the museum Director who came up with the idea of the exceptionally popular exhibition #CampusCats.

But you will see a lot more happening on campus, all of it inspired by Rolf and his return to being well. We’ve especially focused on Rolf’s ability to relax…

If you follow him on Twitter, you’ll see he has made an art of relaxing. I suspect the cat mat made of catnip helped, but nonetheless when he needed it, he relaxed until he felt better. It didn’t mean sitting still and not moving. Instead, he played with our students who had come to ‘cat-sit’, he learnt to go on careful walks, he got creative in all sorts of ways and he enjoyed just playing by himself.

And all of you who are here and are students, are probably preparing for exams right now. That’s quite a stressful time too, so taking the time to relax in between all the hard work, makes sense. We know from research that regular breaks, engaging in physical activity, getting creative and spending time with others, all help us when under pressure. It helps us feel better, but it also makes us focus better when we concentrate. And that’s helpful too. So take a leaf from Rolf’s book, and …take a break and relax…

Welcoming Rolf back onto campus – our own ‘Campus Cat’

So I hope you’ll join in with some of the cat-related activities that the Library team have kindly organised.

You can join ‘Le Chat Chat’ tonight, in the Library, to talk about cats –in any language. It’s a fun way to practice your language skills and have a giggle. I figure I know the word cat in Dutch, so I’m wondering about joining myself.

Or if speaking isn’t your thing, try a bit of creative writing, this time with a cat special, on Thursday 5.30 – 7.00 in the Wolfson Research Exchange. If the cat theme turns out to be really engrossing, would you please be so kind as not to use the walls for scratching your claws? I appreciate some of the walls look hugely enticing in that lovely creative space, but….

Or if you’d rather be left to your own thoughts, go and enjoy the catwalk. No, not the one where all eyes are on you because of what you wear, go for Rolf’s version.

You can walk around all the places Rolf loves. And I think you can trust him to know where the nicest places on campus are. Just for the record, you’re not actually allowed to sit in Claudia Rei’s office and fall asleep on her desk, but you could try Squirrel central, Duckville or Mouse corner. Just look them up on the Campus Cat pages on our website.

If you’d rather do something creative and get in a more relaxed mindset for the weekend, then join the Study Happy Creative Chill Out, in the Library, seminar room 2 at 1.30 this Friday. You can make anything you like, as long as it is cat related!

For postgrad students who would really like to do nothing at all for a bit and just watch someone else do something grandiose – the PG Hub has organised a screening of The Lion King, tomorrow evening at 5pm in the PG Hub Relaxation Room.

And do check out the other events as well, and if you fancy setting up something relaxing yourself with your friends, go for it. Cat related or not.

Above all, make sure you take note of what Rolf suggests: Rolf says ‘relax’.

Well, I say that, but I can’t exactly relax at the moment myself. You see, we have a dog. A lovely Border Collie. But he’s figured out I bought a little present for Rolf, and now he’s refusing to listen to me when I call him. He only turns up for food. He’s punishing me by sitting by the door, but not going through when I open it. He blanks me and turns his head away when I talk to him, licking his paws. Yesterday he even found a dead bird and put it by the door to frighten me. I’m starting to worry about going home…… I am not relaxing at all.

Anyway, back to Rolf!

Thank you, Rolf, for all the fun you give to everyone on campus, for getting better, and above all, for doing exactly what you love best, just like a cat should.

You’re a campus cat, so I wanted to give you something that was in some way a little academic. Strangely though, everything you can buy for cats is about comfort, food, play or relaxation. That tells us something. Perhaps we need more of that in academic life. But I found something in the end.

Academics like to point things out that they think students should be interested in. Some of us use a little laser pointer. But if we ever take such a pointer home, we quickly notice they actually work better for cats than students. Or at least, I’ve never seen a student jump up, follow the little spot of light and try to scratch it off the wall.

So here is your own little laser pointer. You’re going to have to get a human to work it for you, but with your charm, I think that will work.

And that’s all from me. Enjoy the cat fun, in all the ways the wonderful Library team have set up for you. My thanks again to Helen, and above all to Rolf.

And if you see him on campus, please don’t forget: ‘Rolf says Relax!’

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